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Dawn Editorial 3 January 2020

Rana Sanaullah’s demand

GIVEN the facts so far apparent, Rana Sanaullah’s demand that a judicial probe be conducted into the drug smuggling case against him is a reasonable one. The PML-N Punjab president was on his way from Lahore to Faisalabad in July when he was arrested by the Anti-Narcotics Force which claimed to have recovered 15kg of heroin from the vehicle in which he was travelling. Mr Sanaullah was recently granted bail by the Lahore High Court in a ruling that found visible “lapses in the prosecution case” and procedural irregularities on the ANF’s part. Even while the verdict said that further investigation was needed to determine whether he was guilty, it noted that the accused was a prominent political leader and, most damningly, that “political victimisation in our country is an open secret”. While speaking to the media on Wednesday, Mr Sanaullah maintained that the ANF had fabricated the charges against him; he also accused Minister for Narcotics Control Shehryar Afridi of falsely claiming to have video evidence proving his guilt.
The case appears to have become an albatross around the government’s neck. It has been a bizarre matter from the outset. A firebrand critic of the PTI, Mr Sanaullah had in the weeks preceding his arrest voiced apprehension of exactly such a development. Why then would he, that too as a senior PML-N leader, be ferrying such a huge amount of contraband in his vehicle? Moreover, the evidence touted as earlier pointing to an open-and-shut case seems to be anything but. Mr Afridi has created further confusion by his remarks that contradict those given by the ANF on the issue. On Tuesday, members of the cabinet asked tough questions of the DG ANF and the minister for narcotics control over their handling of the case, which has left the government red-faced. While the final outcome of the charges against Mr Sanaullah is yet to be determined, the proceedings have further sullied the concept of accountability under the PTI government.

 
 

Revenue jitters

THE visit that Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Hafeez Shaikh recently paid to the offices of the Federal Board of Revenue was clearly more than just a courtesy call. No press release was issued by the Finance Division or the FBR about the meeting, but those present spoke quite expansively about what happened — and what they had to say does not paint a pleasant picture. The Finance Division, which has to take ultimate ownership of the IMF programme and its successful implementation, is not happy with the pace of revenue collection, and also appears fed up with the absence of any vision for future reform of the FBR. In this respect, the timing of the visit is important to note. It came the day after the FBR announced its revenue collection figures for the first half of the ongoing fiscal year, and the shortfall has widened to Rs287bn. The visit also came a few days after the IMF board approved the first review of the ongoing Fund programme and the detailed review documents show that the Fund, despite acknowledging the fiscal adjustment and the fact that the primary deficit was above its target range, still pointed at the ‘quality’ of revenue collection and the role of quite a few one-off items in helping to meet the target.
Meanwhile, the chairman FBR congratulated himself on social media when announcing the revenue figures, pointing out there is growth of 16pc in the quantum of collections compared to the same period last year. That may be true, but given high inflation and the growth rate, 16pc growth in revenue collection is to be expected even if there was no additional revenue effort. So there is not much here to boast about. Mr Shaikh is said to be unimpressed. And given the urgency of meeting the IMF targets, he views the shortfalls as a serious risk to the programme. If the shortfalls continue, the possibility of new revenue measures in the next few months cannot be ruled out. Something needs to change fast to pre-empt that possibility. Given the slow pace of growth, and shrinking imports, reliance on the traditional heads is not going to help. This is the time for innovative thinking, and better leadership at the governmental level. Left to their own devices, the bureaucrats of the FBR will be unable to develop any such vision. The government has to step forward with a stronger hand.

 
 

More threats

ANYONE who thought that a change of command in the Indian army would lead to fewer threats emanating from across the border should think again.
Taking a cue from his bellicose predecessor, India’s new army chief Lt Gen M.M. Naravane has said that conducting pre-emptive strikes across the LoC remained an option for India.
Read: Pakistan rejects new Indian army chief’s ‘irresponsible statement on pre-emptive strikes across LoC’
Pakistan’s Foreign Office has given the right response: “There should be no doubt about Pakistan’s resolve and readiness to thwart any aggressive Indian move inside its territory of AJ&K. No one should forget Pakistan’s befitting response to India’s Balakot misadventure.”
The previous army chief Bipin Rawat, now elevated to the post of chief of defence staff, had made a habit of issuing threatening statements against Pakistan that smacked of political posturing more than anything substantive. Much of this belligerence had led India into the Balakot misadventure with disastrous results both militarily and politically. Clearly, New Delhi has learnt no lessons.
The Foreign Office has done well to remind the new Indian army chief that the last time India attempted “pre-emptive strikes” it lost two aircraft and one pilot.
It also lost face.
The pilot was returned in good faith by Pakistan. This good faith has not been reciprocated.
On the contrary, India has been growling persistently without any tangible reason except to play to the domestic gallery.
This is dangerous.
Pakistan has demonstrated that it will not allow India to cross red lines, and if India does so, there shall be reciprocity. Pakistan has also displayed that it has the capability and will to defend its territory.
The new Indian army chief might want to get a full briefing on the Balakot misadventure before issuing any more provocative and irresponsible statements.
Pakistan on its part needs to be on full alert.
India is trapped in violent domestic convulsions that are creating dangerous fault lines within its society. The right-wing government of Narendra Modi is struggling to contain the fallout of its anti-Muslim policies. It may be tempted to embark on yet another misadventure across the LoC to divert attention from its domestic troubles.
Pakistan may therefore want to reiterate its well-established red lines and also communicate forcefully to New Delhi and the international community that no Indian strike anywhere on Pakistani territory will go unanswered. This may also be an appropriate time to disabuse India of the notion that it has found some space under the nuclear overhang after Balakot. No such space exists anywhere except in the minds of India’s military planners.
Pakistan may need to step up its diplomatic game to bring key international capitals into the loop about India’s aggressive manoeuvres and rhetoric that have no place in bilateral relations between two neighbours.
Conflict suits no one, least of all two countries armed with nuclear weapons. India should dial down this posturing without delay.

 

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